Working group looks for ways to benefit bees

Issue Date: June 10, 2015
By Christine Souza

Knowing that one-third of food production in the U.S. depends on honeybees and that the nation's apiary sector faces overwintering bee losses due to multiple stresses, people are stepping up to help honeybees and other pollinators.

Just a few weeks after the White House released its federal strategy to reduce honeybee losses, ideas and information were exchanged in Sacramento by about 70 participants in the California Department of Food and Agriculture Healthy Pollinators Working Group. The group was assigned by CDFA Secretary Karen Ross to generate ideas and strategies about the key issues, challenges and opportunities surrounding pollinator health in California.

"The networking value of a meeting like this is huge," said Ria de Grassi, California Farm Bureau Federation director of livestock and animal health and welfare. "To right the ship on pollinator decline, we need an all-hands-on-deck strategy involving the bright, influential minds in industry, academia and public service collegially working toward a clear objective."

Beekeepers, researchers and others point to forage and nutrition, parasites and pathogens, pesticides and genetic diversity as contributing factors to bee decline.

A lack of good forage and nutrition stood out as one of the primary stresses for honeybees. Los Banos beekeeper Gene Brandi, who participated in the meeting, said if the state was experiencing a wet year, there would be plenty of forage.

"People are trying to keep their orchards and permanent crops alive. Of course, Mother Nature provides us with lots of forage in California, but part of it is accessibility," said Brandi, who also serves as vice president of the board at the American Beekeeping Federation. "There are a lot of areas in California that have historically been off-limits to bees because it was government land. That is one good thing that could come of this: that some of the agencies could loosen up restrictions on bee placement."

Brandi said that Eric Mussen, Cooperative Extension apiculturist emeritus at the University of California, Davis, has calculated that it takes about one acre of bloom equivalent to supply the forage needs of a single bee colony.

"If you have 100 bee colonies, we need 100 acres of forage and if 1,000 bee colonies, 1,000 acres," Brandi said. "It takes a lot of forage to supply the needs of the bees."

The working group meeting also involved an afternoon brainstorming session where attendees broke into groups to develop strategies for increasing forage for bees and improving pollinator health.

For some, discussion involved the role of CDFA and how it could serve as an informational hub. Other groups talked about engaging growers outside of the almond sector, because almond growers and the Almond Board of California already support solving apiary challenges, such as with research funding.

Nick Condos, representing CDFA Plant Health and Pest Prevention Services, said there are many ongoing activities related to pollinators, and the agency would like to serve as a place where people could go for information.

"We're hoping to serve as a focal point for all of those (pollinator) issues, as well as provide the secretary of (food and) agriculture a unified set of concerns from apiary stakeholders from California," Condos said.

He also provided a summation of the agency's involvement with honeybees such as: using digital imagery to identify pests found on hives at border stations, working with county agricultural commissioners and distributing grant funding.

Project Apis m. Executive Director Christi Heintz said the organization has taken advantage of CDFA Specialty Crop Block Grant funds to help honeybees. She noted that CDFA can facilitate partnerships between those actively working on honeybee health and those working on ecosystem services such as water management, soil enhancement and carbon sequestration.

"Tying honeybee health objectives to ecosystem services goals will be a win-win for all," Heintz said.

Vicki Wojcik, a research director at Pollinator Partnership, discussed ongoing research and projects for improving bee habitat, such as working with utility companies, researching various types of seed forage mixes and a "bee buffer" program that involves working with corporate sponsors to plant forage.

Stacey Smith of the Honey Bee Health Coalition, which represents more than 30 organizations and agencies from across food, agriculture, government and conservation, said, "There is no one solution to this problem and we support all of the pathways to a solution."

Ideas generated during the meeting will be consolidated into a final report to CDFA Secretary Ross and the State Board of Food and Agriculture.

For more information, see the CDFA Pollinator Protection webpage at

(Christine Souza is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.